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August 31st 2018 print

Peter Smith

Means and Ends in the Climate ‘Debate’

Groupthink among climate scientists --  ‘the science is settled’ brigade -- has constrained public debate, which was  entirely to be expected. You see, believers are predominantly devoted to promoting 'solutions' and that, rather than open-minded inquiry, is the warmists' objective

climate stripes IISomeone among my group of “climate change is real” mates sent me and others a series of those heat-stripe charts, from dark blue (cold) to dark red (hot) for various places, showing that it had grown hotter over the past 100 to 200 years or so. The earliest was from central England and dated from 1772. Climate Lab Book is the source for these charts if you want to look them up. One wag responded that these charts made it easier for people who couldn’t read graphs. Uneducated Deplorables presumably.

I can read graphs despite my membership of the Deplorables. As can most, if not all, of those sceptical of the alarmist hypothesis. I responded in a reasoned and diplomatic way that those who thought the charts showed anything of interest or significance were halfwits. Or, I may have said that they had only half a brain. I’d had a glass or two of wine at the time. But leaving this particular way of expressing myself aside, what is my point?

My point is that we are in an interglacial period (thankfully) and, to boot, we are coming off a Maunder Minimum (low Sunspot activity) dated around 1645 to 1715. This is otherwise referred to as the Little Ice Age. Thus, there is no dispute that the earth has gradually — though not evenly — warmed since then. To point this out as though it were profound is profoundly irritating to those with a full quota of wits.

I thought it might be instructive to employ what in the business world is called facilitation. You break an issue down; and then, by approaching it from the least- to the most-contentious parts, you try to forge a consensus among people in a room. A consensus is infeasible when comes to climate. But a process of breaking down the climate change hypothesis into parts might put the debate on a more intelligent footing and, perhaps, deter people from broadcasting banal heat charts. It’s a simplified breakdown. I want a degree of licence on that matter. Only the first three of the six parts listed below would find unanimity among true believers and sceptics.

  1. The earth has warmed since the industrial revolution.
  2. The warming since circa 1975 (based on land, sea and, since 1979, on satellites) has been at a considerably faster pace on average than in the period from 1850 to 1975. (Only since 1850 has there been a land and sea global temperature series (HADCRUT) based on thermometer readings.)
  3. CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from around 280ppm pre-industrialization to around 400ppm now.
  4. The increase in CO2 is mainly due to industrial emissions
  5. The more rapid increase in temperature since 1975 is predominantly due to increased CO2 emissions.
  6. Further increases in the concentration of atmospheric CO2 risks runaway warming accompanied by more violent and frequent adverse weather events and by flooding sea-level rises.

You might ask why this breakdown is useful. Only in making the debate more intelligible is my claim. Let the debate begin at number four above. Put the first three away into the consensus bank.

When it comes number four, some scientists among sceptics would agree. Others might differ. One sceptic colourfully described mankind’s emissions as a “fart in the wind.” In other words, he thought natural processes primarily accounted for the rise in CO2. I have no idea.

When it comes to number five there is a theory. CO2 is a mild greenhouse gas but it encourages other effects. Principally, the creation of water vapour, I understand, which has a multiplying warming effect. Some scientists among sceptics suggest that negative feedback effects (e.g. cloud cover reflecting back the Sun’s rays) will mitigate warming. Some suggest that CO2 is a sideshow and that other natural forces are at work. See, for example, Kininmonth in QOL 27 August. I have no idea.

When it comes to number six a combination of statistical models and speculation underscore the predictions. Here I have a tentative view. Models are very bad at mirroring dynamic complex natural systems. They’re best taken with a grain of salt. But, on the whole, as you can see, I don’t think I am in any position to judge the science. Ditto for all, all, of us outside of the scientific fraternity. At the same time, all of us are position to judge the process. The process has been appalling in my view.

Groupthink among climate scientists (the ‘the science is settled’ brigade) has constrained public debate. The use of the term “denier” says it all. Carrots in the form of research grants and sticks in the form of shunnings and sackings have silenced academic sceptics. Corporate carpetbaggers, who know squat about the science, have sleazed into the picture grabbing billions of taxpayer dollars to install costly and intermittent power sources. Virtue signalling politicians, equally ignorant, have jumped onto the bandwagon. It is a dream come true for the greens who would like to deindustrialise the planet. And, to top it off, once you let the UN make the running, despite all evidence to the contrary, the North Pole has no summer ice left, imaginary hockey stick temperature graphs appear, and Pacific islands begin sinking under swelling seas.

Finding the truth now about the science is impossible in our lifetimes. Too much vested interest in the current paradigm stymies genuine inquiry. There was a possibility of some sort of forced and awkward consensus being forged on reducing CO2 emissions by using ‘clean’ coal, gas, nuclear and, yes, some solar. But that opportunity too is lost. Among believers the problem and the means of combatting it have become conflated.

My observation is that believers are predominantly “solutioneers” (Roger James, Return to Reason). The means have become the objective. Deploying windmills and solar panels is now the principal objective. Reducing CO2 emissions has become of secondary importance. Thus, power has become much costlier and more unreliable. And emissions? Onwards and upwards. But heck, look at those ugly soaring wind turbines and feel good about yourself.

The only answer left is in partisan politics. We need politicians and governments to arise to crash through the current paradigm. Trump is having go. Morrison? Don’t hold your breath. I see, as I write, that new Energy Minister Angus Taylor as forsworn his fidelity to ‘the science’. Mind you, what he says he will do about it gives a glimmer of hope. Fingers crossed.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [16]

  1. Biggles says:

    Peter, Your points 4-6 are assumptions, (a polite word for guesses). The oceans contain fifty times as much CO2 as does the atmosphere. Has it ever occurred to you that outgassing of the oceans has had an effect as the Earth has warmed slightly since the little ice age? In any event, an increase from 280 to 400 ppm would have an immesurably small effect. Half of the warming due to CO2 occurs in the first 20 ppm. At 300 PPm CO2 is done.

    • ianl says:

      > ” Has it ever occurred to you that outgassing of the oceans has had an effect as the Earth has warmed slightly since the little ice age?”

      Underlying that is the fact that CO2 has a higher solubility in cool than warm water, so as the ocean warms even slightly, CO2 is outgassed. I’ve made that comment here before but most seemingly ignore it because it is counter-intuitive, despite being a fact.

      > “In any event, an increase from 280 to 400 ppm would have an immesurably small effect. Half of the warming due to CO2 occurs in the first 20 ppm. At 300 PPm CO2 is done”

      Yes, that is my view as well. The quasi-log CO2 concentration/temperature graph reproduced here a few weeks ago makes this point succinctly.

    • Peter says:

      Biggles, I obviously didn’t make myself clear. None are my points. Points one to six are supposed to represent the existing warming paradigm. Points four to six are not assumptions or guesses they represent what warmists believe to be the case. I am simply putting them up.

  2. padraic says:

    Another aspect is volcanic activity. The accompanying hot link makes some interesting observations. I am waiting for the Greens to put up legislation banning volcanoes.

    https://www.armstrongeconomics.com/international-news/nature/the-hunger-stones-have-appeared/

    • exuberan says:

      Volcanic activity may have caused the Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon, 1.2 cubic kilometres of CO2 was suddenly released from the lake, killing humans and livestock nearby by Oxygen deprivation. That amount of CO2 equates to several hundred thousand tonnes. The CO2 leakage from this lake is ongoing and there are other similar lakes.

  3. Earth is not just a physico-chemical system, Earth is alive. Earth figured out what to do with carbon dioxide eons ago. Earth invented RUBISCO, the commonest protein on Earth. Rubisco turns carbon dioxide into sugar for us all to eat and oxygen for us all to breathe. Earth noticed that carbon dioxide increased recently, and has correspondingly made much more rubisco. So stop worrying, and leave it all to Mother Earth.

  4. Dallas Beaufort says:

    Sunspot & solar plasma discharges dear Peter, Not man made !

  5. Peter OBrien says:

    “Deploying windmills and solar panels is now the principal objective.” Peter, I fear you have hit the nail on the head with this observation. And, I think it explains the equanimity with which Liberal and National Party closet sceptics (and, statistically, there must be more of them than we think) acquiesce in this madness. They believe that, yes, eventually renewables and batteries will get cheaper than coal and gas and will become an unstoppable force.

    BTW the global temperature in the 21st century has not increased at ‘a considerably faster pace’ than any time since 1850. It has effectively flatlined, giving the lie to the runaway warming myth. In fact the idea of climate sensitivity to CO2, as a logarithmic function, just does not make sense. If the prognosis is runaway warming based on feedbacks from eg water vapour, the function should be exponential. As has been previously pointed out by me and others in this comments thread, if the relationship is logarithmic then most of the warming has already occurred.

    • Peter says:

      Peter, You are right of course to draw attention to the flatlining of the global temperatures post 2000, though since 2014-2015 temperatures have spiked again(satellite data). However, I like to look over periods of 25 years plus. And since 1975 temperatures have risen quite strongly. Your point gets into the debating weeds of why. And the flatlining of temperatures against continuing increases in atmospheric CO2 and against the model predictions is material to that debate. Though I note that some warmists are arguing that the flatlining is a statistical artefact. It all gets beyond me. I simply suspect that for the era being the scientific debate is effectively lost. I hold out hope that some sanity will eventually prevail when it comes to the means adopted to reduce CO2 emissions.

  6. Les Kovari says:

    “batteries will get cheaper than coal and gas and will become an unstoppable force”, in the meantime Elon Musk is getting richer and richer.

    By the way, Co2 is only a greenhouse gas because some misguided dilettante who later became a warmist thought growers pump it into their greenhouses to raise and maintain the temperature. In fact the warm temperature is produced by the sun and maintained by the glass which is a good insulator. The Co2 gas on the other hand is utilized by plants as nourishment, one atom of carbon is chomped up by the plants, in return they give us back two oxygen atoms which we then suck in. Not an unfair trade.

    As for the global warming thingy, there are 1500 active volcanoes world wide which all belch out an immeasurable amount of heat energy, especially around the Pacific Ocean, I am thinking of the ring of fire, a semi circle of the under sea volcanic activity, not seen by most of us, therefore, they don’t exist in the mind of most people.

    There is also a phenomenon, the precession of the rotational axis of the Earth. On complete cycle takes 56,000 years so, any heating or cooling due to the relative distance from the Sun is likely to be very lengthy. It may be the clue to the hot summers and cold winters we are experiencing at the moment. Somebody ought to study this phenomenon and tell the rest of the world about it. I am too old and lazy to be bothered, none of it will happen in my lifetime.

    To sum it up, climate change, if it is happening, is a fact and if anybody thinks the Australian Government can stop it by levying a tax on it or, a bunch of idiots meeting in Paris or Kyoto can make a difference, he, she or it needs a head MRI. So suck it in brother and just grin and bear it.

  7. Les Kovari says:

    Sorry, the precession period is 26,000 years, not 56,000.

  8. Matheus says:

    About point 4: the isotopic composition (proportion between 13C and 12C in CO2 molecules) of the CO2 added to the atmosphere since industrial revolution is consistent with a biological origin for this CO2. This means that it is possible that the burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor, as fossil fuels ultimately come from photosynthesis.

  9. Alice Thermopolis says:

    As far as the UN and EU are concerned, the so-called science is settled.

    Turning the climate juggernaut around at this stage would inflict huge reputational damage on too many people and agencies.

    Their primary concern is not about scientific “truth” in the climate space, but how quickly they can monetize the issue.

    Here is former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just a week ago fretting over the lack of dollars in the UN Green Climate Fund:

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-climatechange-politics/climate-fund-snags-threaten-opportunity-to-fight-warming-ban-ki-moon-idUSKCN1LC01T

    “I am deeply concerned that the GCF – while it has been really trying to work – has not been fully funded,” Ban said in an interview from South Korea, where the fund is also based.
    “With the U.S. pullout of this (Paris) climate agreement, we are not sure whether $100 billion by 2020 will be met,” he added.

    But the last meeting of its 24-member board in July was blocked by disputes over policies and governance, meaning no new projects were approved.

    Ban is also president of the Global Green Growth Institute, a GCF partner. No wonder he described that result as “quite unfortunate”.

    All they have on their minds right now is – not the junk science – but trying to sort out the GFC administrative chaos before major climate talks in Poland in December this year, “to smooth negotiations on a rule book to implement the Paris Agreement.”

    What an irony. They claim to know all about how to “control” the climate , EWEs, etc. – whatever that means – can’t have a board meeting without it descending into farce.

    Ban also pointed to a climate summit to be hosted by U.N. chief Antonio Guterres in September 2019 as “a key moment for governments to outline clearly how they will reach their wider annual goal of $100 billion”. That’s an annual $100 billion, folks.

    “Otherwise it will be a huge embarrassment for the developed countries not to be able to have a formula and a strong commitment on this,” Ban said. “I am sure that they will work on this matter … I am urging them.”

    I’d take the “huge embarrassment” and so should the Australian government.

    It, however, is complicit in this ugly business. It prefers to endorse a fiction: that we can engineer a Goldilocks climate for the whole world by paying a lot of money in “climate reparations”.

    It would rather sign an EU free trade agreement containing a manadatory Paris 2015 climate clause than stand up to the bullying and expose this colossal fraud.

    • Les Kovari says:

      “Turning the climate juggernaut around at this stage would inflict huge reputational damage on too many people and agencies.”

      A maximum of reputational damage is, in fact, what’s needed. The bigger the better. The current situation where a minority can hold the majority to ransom is not the politics my children and grand children deserve to inherit.

  10. Jody says:

    This is the best comment I’ve read on this subject, and I’ve uplifted it from reader comments on an alternative site:

    It’s the opinion of experts that we question and that is because they are tools at the service of political ideologies, their objectivity has been compromised.

    To what extent global warming is true is something we will never know, because this is no longer a neutral scientific hypothesis, it is a central political tenet around which political parties have built a whole pseudo ethics. A scientist disagreeing with quantum physics will be listened to fairly and his thesis will be scrutinised impartially but anyone challenging global warming will be given short shrift and made an outcast of polite society.

    The same with anyone challenging the value of recycling or other environmental measures. To question these is to commit a heresy, because environmentalism is not a technical public health issue, which is what it should be, but a secular cult. Once issues are given a moral dimension, they cease to be part of neutral science, their existence is needed in order to maintain alive the idea it supports.

    And schools and universities are also political tools; any historian challenging the virtues of feminism or de-colonisation will be made a pariah. The line between academia and propaganda is no longer clear.

    People are skeptical because they have been lied to, not because they reject the notion of expertise and now that governments have taken the role of creating and maintaining a certain moral order, they are no longer trusted as impartial and that is just common sense on the part of ordinary people.